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This Is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon Hardcover – February 2, 2016
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“Wertheim and Sommers wield serious research to diagnose the myriad symptoms of the human brain on sports, and what they find is, by turns, hilarious, slightly frightening, and always illuminating.”
— David Epstein, author The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance
"Smart, funny, and brimming with insights."
-- Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling On Happiness
"It was only after delving into this unique tome that I learned that Mookie Wilson was available for bar mitzvah greetings via telephone, or that I can go elk hunting with Ryan Klesko for a mere nine grand. This information alone is worth many times the cost of this eye-opening and entertaining book."
— Bob Costas
"Eye-opening, captivating, and hilarious, This is Your Brain on Sports shines a fascinating and scientific spotlight on human nature. Wertheim and Sommers offer expert lessons for athletes and sports fans, sure, but also for business leaders, managers, entrepreneurs, parents, youth sports coaches, and more."
— Amy Cuddy, Harvard Business School professor and author of Presence
“A rollicking read that offers dozens of sparkling insights into social psychology, cognitive science, and behavioral economics. Wertheim and Sommers are the perfect writing duo -- one part Watson and Crick, another part Brady and Gronkowski.”
— Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and To Sell Is Human
“Wertheim and Sommers have achieved the Holy Grail: a book that’s as fun as it is informative.”
— Adam Alter, Associate Professor of Marketing and Psychology, Stern School of Business, and New York Times Bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink
"Not just an entertaining read, but a book filled with wisdom that will help fans, athletes, coaches — and executives – understand sports a little differently and a little better"
— Ivan Gazidis, chief executive Arsenal Football Club
About the Author
L. Jon Wertheim is the executive editor of Sports Illustrated. A sports journalist with a passion for psychology and economics, he is the author of such New York Times bestsellers as Scorecasting (written with Toby Moskowitz) and You Can’t Make This Up (written with Al Michaels). A huge sports fan, Sam Sommers is an experimental psychologist at Tufts University who studies the psychology of everyday life. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Situations Matter.
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Top Customer Reviews
That question, along with many others, are answered in this very entertaining book by Sports Illustrated executive editor L. Jon Wertheim and experimental psychologist Sam Sommers. Interspersing serious discussion of the function of the mind during certain situations along with many sports anecdotes which are often hilarious, the book will help explain why certain beliefs in sports either live on despite evidence to the contrary (such as if having sex just before a sporting event will sap an athlete’s strength and stamina) or are certainly true (hockey enforcers certainly do prefer to fight on home ice instead of on the road).
Something I really enjoyed about the book is that nearly every sport is covered in some way and so many stars – from Tom Brady to Serena Williams to Mookie Wilson are mentioned. The latter was in one of the most interesting chapters that discusses a web site where ordinary people can sign up for events like having Mookie Wilson speak at a bar mitzvah or Rob Gronkoski rub elbows with guests at your barbecue. All for a nominal fee, of course. Each of these stories, along with the explanation of just what triggers these beliefs, make this book a very good read for any sports fan.
I wish to thank Crown Archtype Publishing for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Clever chapter titles such as “Why Rooting for the Mets Is Like Building That IKEA Desk,” Why Our Moral Compass Is More Flexible Than an Olympic Gymnasts,” and “Why the World Cup Doesn’t Lead to World Peace (Even If J. Lo and Pitbull Claim Otherwise) invite the reader to dive into the material.
For me, the most interesting chapters were “The Curse of the Expert: Why the Best Players Make the Worst Coaches,” “Why Rooting for the Mets Is Like Building That IKEA Desk,” and “Why Giving Every Little League Kid a Trophy Is Such a Lousy Idea.”
In Curse of the Expert, Wertheim and Sommers use numerous examples and studies that illustrate the curse of expertise: Experts see and mentally organize the world differently from the rest of us, and they often don’t realize it. It makes teaching difficult for them.
It helps to explain why Andy Roddick fired tennis great Jimmy Connors as a coach and replaced him with Larry Stefanki, who owned a 52-87 pro record and had won just 3 percent of Connor’s career prize money.
In “Why Rooting for the Mets...,” the authors explain “effort justification,” which says that when people make sacrifices to pursue a goal, the effort exerted is often validated by elevating the attractiveness of the goal. In other words, we often come to love that which we suffer to achieve.” Again, this is supported by numerous examples and studies.
In regards to Little League trophies for everyone, the authors point out that for maximum impact, praise must be linked to effort, not just for showing up.
No matter if something seems to make sense or doesn’t make sense in sports, you can be assured that there have been lots of studies about it. There’s certainly more research going on connected to sports and athletes’ performance than most of us realize. And, with so much at stake, it makes sense.
“The quirkiness of sports taught us something deeper about who we are, what we care about and the forces that shape our behavior,” write Wertheim and Sommers.
Whether regular sports fans are interested in this research is another matter. But, if you have an interest in sports and science, this is the book for you.
The book examines sports from many aspects; behavioral psychology, marketing, economics, with a dash of evolutionary biology thrown in. Part of the fun is the often lighthearted approach seasoning the science. Why are quarterbacks always so darn good looking? Blame part of the reason on the halo effect which endows qualities of attractiveness to those in positions of authority or command.
A fascinating section on underdogs explains fan loyalty with teams in the bottom of the rankings. According to studies, the struggle to rise to the top is enough to engage support. As Wertheim and Sommers note, the role of the underdog seems natural. Losers are more human, poor schlubs striving to overcome obstacles like the rest of us. We relate better to them than those with godlike physical talents and attributes. People also frame the performance of a longshot more favorably; the humble, scrappy losers are endowed with more character than those prideful adversaries who stomped all over them. You don’t have to be a sports fan to understand.
This book isn’t a sugarcoated treatise on the benefits of sports. Negative aspects of competition are given an evenhanded investigation. A section on violence explains the link to arousal, and the authors draw interesting parallels between sport's violence, the ability to negotiate a business deal, and ad agencies using arousal to cajole consumers to buy. Apparently sex not only sells, but also, according to research, doesn't detract from an athlete's abilities. Remaining celibate before the big game to improve performance is a myth.
What I particularly enjoyed about This is your Brain on Sports is that it’s written for the fan and nonfan alike. The book is both entertaining and thoughtful. Even when the authors go deep into the science, explanations are easy for the layman to follow. Everyone will come away with a little better understanding of not just sports, but human behavior as well. Sure, sports fans are a little crazy, but apparently so are the rest of us. Now, hand me my giant cheese wedge hat.
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.